It’s certainly not confetti and roses that are currently falling through the air on the eve of Vladimir Putin’s Monday inauguration. At the time of writing, thousands of protesters have been engaged in a street battle with Moscow police units. Russia’s three main opposition leaders – Alexei Navalny, Sergei Udaltsov and Boris Nemtsov – have all been arrested this afternoon. Navalny, famous as the man behind crowd-sourced anti-corruption website RosPil, also had his phone taken away.
According to the liberal newspaper Gazeta.ru, the BBC, and tweets from eyewitnesses, protesters at Kammenny Bridge, site of the “March of the Millions” against the government, have started throwing rocks and bottles at anti-riot police. One protesters has been spotted with a heavy head wound. Conflicting accounts describe police provoking a stampede and protesters throwing molotov cocktails. So far, 6 protesters have been hospitalised but the crowds refuse to disperse.
This is not how Putin would have imagined his return to the presidency to look like. Tomorrow’s meticulously planned million dollar celebrations are slated to include the finest sturgeon and caviar for 2000 elite guests (some of whom include top officials said to be charging businessmen upwards of $500,000 to reserve a seat next to them at the table).
It is not yet clear, however, whether Putin’s wife Lyudmila will appear at the festivities.
Today’s protest, unless it results in some sort of police massacre, is unlikely to destabilise the new government too much. After all, who could have imagined that, four years after the motorcade of George Bush got pelted with eggs by people who felt he had stolen the 2000 election from Al Gore, he would be comfortably re-elected? Yet Putin loves to feel loved, and can be notoriously thin skinned about open displays of defiance, however small. His parade will still go ahead, but now, he will be forced to bring an umbrella.